Carly Fiorina: Ted Cruz’s unfathomable choice for vice president.

Why Carly? A Theory About Ted Cruz’s Unfathomable VP Pick.

Why Carly? A Theory About Ted Cruz’s Unfathomable VP Pick.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 28 2016 5:07 PM

Ted Cruz’s VP Pick Doesn’t Make Any Sense, Unless …

Carly Fiorina is Trump bait.

Fiorina Cruz
Set the trap and wait: Ted Cruz stands with Carly Fiorina after he announced Fiorina as his running mate at a campaign rally in Indianapolis on Wednesday.

Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Sen. Ted Cruz is denying that his selection of Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential pick was a “desperate” maneuver to stop Donald Trump in Indiana.

Jim Newell Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.

They don’t call him Lyin’ Ted for no reason.

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This was objectively a desperate move. It looks more and more desperate as the hours pass. By this hour, it’s beginning to smell like an all-timer in the annals of political desperation. This could go down as the one thing for which Cruz’s candidacy is remembered. “Pulling a Cruz” will be shorthand for political desperation, which is the only way to interpret the hilarious act of a candidate trailing by 400 delegates naming a vice presidential candidate in order to somehow pick up a few percentage points in friggin’ Indiana.

How does the selection of Fiorina theoretically help Cruz pick up a few percentage points in friggin’ Indiana, by the way? Most of the delegate analysis of the pick has focused on her ability to help Cruz in some Northern California congressional districts in June. That’s a stretch. There’s little evidence that voters, in California or otherwise, care at all about Carly Fiorina. But even if she could help Cruz pick up a few delegates in Silicon Valley, none of that will matter if their ticket loses Indiana.

Here’s one of the many ways to describe what makes this move reek of desperation: Cruz is using one of the best weapons in a presidential candidate’s arsenal, one of the most effective ways of seizing the public’s attention and defining his candidacy, to win a couple of news cycles in April. You can argue that he needed to try something this desperate since his campaign is in a commensurately desperate position. It’s not clear that the pick will even achieve these simple goals, though, as the Fiorina news was quickly crowded out by coverage of Trump’s Indiana rally with Bobby Knight and former Speaker John Boehner’s unflattering comments toward the Texas senator. Cruz was lucky to have an establishment figure like Boehner criticize him so colorfully and keep him in the news, because his veep stunt was about a 12-hour story.

We can understand the why now?, however sad and unsuccessful that may be. But what about the who? Perhaps Fiorina is the only person in the world who can tolerate Cruz enough to serve on his ticket. Simpler yet: Condi gave him the hard no.

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There is one way in which Fiorina makes perfect sense as a means of quickly and acutely shifting the political terrain before Indiana votes. It essentially involves using Fiorina as bait for Trump.

If the Cruz campaign is lucky, the Fiorina selection will provoke Trump into saying or doing something egregiously sexist before May 3. For Trump, the only thing standing between him and the nomination may be his ability to avoid that simple trap. Will he be able to do it?

Wisconsin was not a great fit for Donald Trump, but he didn’t help himself by going on a crusade against Heidi Cruz. It dominated the news for several days heading into the primary. Insane sexism might not have lost Trump any of the supporters he already had, but it did make it difficult for him to grow at all beyond that. He won the 35 percent of the vote that he always had in the bag and nothing more. In the three recent polls of Indiana, the only polling we have in that state, Trump sits at 40 percent. Cruz’s goal is to keep Trump stuck there and hope that his campaign can leapfrog his rival’s now that John Kasich’s out of the picture and eating meals all over the Willamette Valley.

Trump already has a history of making crudely sexist remarks about Fiorina during her own candidacy. “Look at that face!” he infamously said to a Rolling Stone reporter last fall when she appeared on television. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Fiorina enjoys going after Trump, and she will try her hardest to get Trump to break through whatever paper-thin filter Paul Manafort has worked tirelessly to install.

Will it work? So far Trump has shown surprising restraint in responding to the announcement. “I think it’s really a waste of time, honestly,” he told Fox News on Wednesday night about the Cruz campaign’s rollout. Even Trump sees this move as too desperate to require the usual string of insults—for now. His mind could change. The bars are always set so low for Trump to prove his “presidential” qualities. Can he make it through next Tuesday without calling Carly Fiorina ugly? is this week’s painfully, embarrassingly low bar.